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The Presentation of Jesus

2nd February 2021

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Stefan Kaminski
Candlemas? Presentation of the Lord? Purification of the Blessed Virgin? Mildly confused?
They’re all the same feast – today! Why the different names? And why “Purification”?
The Mosaic Law required a woman who had given birth to a male child to be purified in the Temple. She was considered unclean for 7 days after the birth, and had to await another 33 days before presenting herself in the temple.
This question of uncleanliness is often misunderstood as something negative though. The notion of “spiritual impurity” (as it’s translated) is defined by Chassidic teaching as an “absence of holiness”. It refers to a certain distance from the source of life: God Himself. Hence according to Jewish law, the highest magnitude of “uncleanliness” comes from touching a dead body, since death is the principal cause of distance from Life.
When it comes to the woman’s natural cycle of fertility, this brings a woman to a peak level of potential holiness, because she is potentially united to the Life-Giver in her ability to pro-create a human being. When a child is conceived, she takes part in a singular action of creation, which involves God Himself. Following that moment (whether actual or potential), the rest of the cycle is a “descent” from that higher state of holiness: a certain emptying or impurity. The ritual purification that follows (the ‘mikvah’) is then part of a cycle of preparing for the next “ascent”. There is a certain parallel with the six “mundane”, week days and the holy day of the Sabbath.
Girolamo Romanino, The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
And so today we celebrate the day that Mary, forty days after the birth of Christ, went into the Temple to redeem her new-born Son and to be purified. The offering that was prescribed with this ritual was a lamb, or two turtle doves or pigeons if the lamb could not be afforded. Mary and Joseph presented two turtle-doves.
The celebration of this day spread out from Jerusalem, and is attested to in Antioch in 526 AD. It is not until the end of the 7th century AD that the procession with candles (not commonly celebrated any more) was added. The significance of the candles foreshadows their use at the Easter Vigil, commemorating the words of Simeon the High Priest, upon receiving the Child Jesus in the Temple:
“At last, all-powerful Master, give leave to your servant to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all nations: the light to enlighten the Gentiles, and give glory to Israel, your people.”